Before I came to UCL I had no idea what to expect of the education system.
I knew it would be different, I knew it would take time to assimilate, but I did not know how drastic the change would be. So, following, is a (hopefully) helpful outline of what I went through in the beginning of my time as an English affiliate at UCL.
AKA course registration. For the English department (unfortunately I cannot speak for a department outside of my own), module registration is simple. In the first few days of moving into housing there are orientation meetings, and within those, there is a departmental meeting at the English building Foster Court.
IMPORTANT: if you sign up for the English department specifically (and are not in joint departments) you can take classes only in the English department. So do not waste time looking at any other courses in the online course book. It’s heartbreaking when you think you’re taking a set amount of courses and are then told you cannot. Also, students who are not in the English department may not take English courses. I like to think that this is because of the difficulty of the program and high standards they have (if I wasn’t an English major regularly I would be drowning), but I honestly have no idea why that is.
You meet with other affiliates and the head of the department in the student common room. Here, after Professor John Mullan scares you with his quotations and energy (he is a lovely man but he does have a lot of things to say), you are given a booklet and two sheets of paper.
The booklet is full of guidelines. These are for your essays, your final essays, and etc.
The two sheets of paper are as follows:
Paper #1: A timetable over the course of one week showing what time the lectures and seminars are held. This way, you can choose what days you want to be in which classes. This is great because you can attempt to have a few days off (for me, it’s every other friday).
Paper #2: A selection of course modules to select from. We were given all level 3 courses and only one level 2. Do not dismay, for although people will scare you out of wanting to take level 3s, they really are not so bad. Challenging, but only because your course mates (the full time students) are so incredibly specialized that it feels like you are behind. Do NOT feel this way. Remember that while they’ve been taking courses specific to the English department the past 1-2 years (plus during their A levels) you have been rounded out by the American school system and have probably been mixing in science, history, math, etc. It will be okay. By the time you walk out of the room, you will have chosen your lecture courses. This being said, it is time to sign up for seminars.
Lectures are the courses you’ve chosen on the sheet you’ve handed in. For example, I am in lectures on Chaucer, Victorians, London in Literature, and Shakespeare. I go to four lectures per week (one per class) that are each an hour long. It may be a different person each time and they will lecture on a different topic. For example, in my London in Literature lecture my lecture topics range from the London Particular (fog) to graphic novels set in London. This is to build understanding about topics and give you ideas to write essays on. Many times your lecturer will have a handout with further readings that are excellent sources of information for your essays. The lectures may not pertain to any books you are reading, but I highly suggest you attend them all because the lecturers are invaluable sources of information. They are world class educators and even if you don’t think you’ll need the topic they choose, they could sidebar into something you may want to hear.
When you walk out of the common room after handing in your course sheet, you sign up for your seminars. Think of these as the focus under your lectures. My seminars are as follows (in accordance with my lectures): Chaucer-Chaucer (there is no specialization for this course), Victorians-Dickens, London in Literature-Criminal Minds (think Jekyll and Hyde/Sherlock Holmes), and Shakespeare-Violent Homes (exs. The Rape of Lucrece, Othello). For each course you should be assigned four novels/plays/poems. One of these must be read every two weeks to be discussed in your small seminar group. In lectures, you sit there and are spoken at. Seminars are your chance to ask questions and expand on ideas you may come up with during your readings.
Every two weeks, an essay is due. This is when you meet with your tutor to receive your grade and discuss what you can do better. Essentially, you are defending your paper, so make sure you know what you’re talking about when you go into it. I know that sounds obvious, but I’ve definitely winged it on papers before and that does not fly here. This is where half of your grade comes from. In the first threeish months you will turn in four papers, and afterwards, during the “Spring break” you are expected to write four more essays to turn in at the end of the break along with the graded essays from your tutor. This is the second half of your grade. For your essays, you must write on your specific seminar topic (If you’re in Victorians-Dickens you must write on Dickens, not any Victorian novelist), but you do not necessarily have to write on the books you read. For example, if you really like Great Expectations but are not reading it in the Dickens seminar, you can still write on it.
The Most Important Point…
Take a break. Give yourself time to relax. Don’t stress out over a B on an essay.
You’re in a new country surrounded by new people in a new education system. Take ten minutes to have a cuppa with a few dark chocolate Digestives. Have a nap. Chat with a flatmate. Do not let this place overwhelm you; London is incredible and so is UCL, but if you don’t give yourself a break to hang out with a friend or FaceTime your family, you won’t be able to enjoy the bulk of it.
If you have any questions please feel free to comment below. I know studying abroad can seem scary, but I promise it is worth every anxious moment!